Leeding by Example
Austin Leeds has just wrapped up a track with Orlando-based pal DJ Jimmy Van M at a Miami studio. In a few days, he'll ship off to Australia and New Zealand for shows with German trance DJ Timo Maas.
Back at the ranch -- actually, his parents' home in Coral Springs -- his small studio is stacked floor to rafters with keyboards, computers, modulators, and speakers. As Leeds gives a nickel tour of the set-up, he taps a few notes on his keyboard, throws in a sample... and out pops a loop.
About 80 percent of his music is done on the computer, he notes, while whipping back and forth between his Macintosh, soundboard, and five keyboards. He perfected his gift of gadgetry while working at a music store during first-semester break from Florida Atlantic University. After he ditched his jazz-guitar scholarship, the new job launched him into schmoozeville with touring European DJs and those in the South Beach club scene. Among those he rubbed elbows with was Van M, whom he also slipped a demo. Van M dug it, and the pair quickly got down to... well, getting down. In summer 1999, they came up with "More," which was released on John Digweed's Bedrock label. Leeds released two more songs of his own, "Force 51" and "Moondiver," also on Bedrock. The former ended up on a Deep Dish compilation -- as well as on a similar Sasha and Digweed package that sold 300,000 copies worldwide.
Although the 24-year-old South Florida native admits his big break had a lot to do with being in the right place at the right time, he credits his musician roots with preparing him to take advantage of the opportunity. At 16, he spent six weeks in a summer program at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. "Even though technically I wasn't in electronic music, ever since I first started practicing guitar, from when I was 13 years old, I was always 100 percent into it," Leeds recalls. "I always knew that's what I wanted to do."
The beats-forward-thinking DJ with an affinity toward the progressive thrives in the underground, and he doesn't mind if that's where he stays. "It's a bit more of a thought-provoking, more intelligent sort of music," Leeds says of his bag of big, infectious 4/4 beats layered with strategically placed catchy vocal phrases. "I just try to have a bit of a journey and make a statement -- by not playing these big, loud obnoxious party tunes all the time. I like a bit of thought and emotion whenever I'm DJing. In 90 percent of the clubs around the world, you would hear these very typical radio remixes. They just take the popular tunes of the day and do the big dance remixes. Very loud and obnoxious."
Leeds splits the year between touring abroad and around South Florida, his bass bins blowing away the drone of pop tunes puréed in a 150-bpm techno blender. When he can, he'll take residence at clubs like Lola and Club Blue in Miami Beach, where he feels crowds are more tuned into the richness of his global sound. He just launched his own imprint, Hamachi Recordings, through which he can churn out his own stuff, such as his newest release, "Submarine."
"It's more inspirational to walk out of a big club like Crobar or Space and to be able to be in your studio five or ten minutes later working on an idea, getting things down," the mixologist remarks. "And it's good to be able to have a bit of street vibe to the music as well."
Perhaps intelligent electronica will trickle its way back to South Florida clubs as well, displacing the quantity of beats-per-minute with quality beats, and get away from the trancey, anthemic tunes. "I think the clubs are really into a real commercial sound," he frets. "A lot of the local club owners don't allow a DJ to do his thing. They're just very focused on having a very commercial, safe sound."
Leeds hopes to break the bubble of commercial dance music that plagues clubs of late with the international sounds he picks up on his travels. "I travel all over the world, and I pick up fresh music that I know the DJs don't play and the people in the clubs aren't hearing -- and it's fucking great music, incredible," he gushes. "I know my music can set itself apart from what a lot of the Miami DJs play."
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